by Singapore Art Media
published by Y.Kids; $14.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
First, a brief rant. Shame on Y.Kids for not giving credit to the actual writers and artists! I thought the dark days of uncredited comics were behind us. There is no excuse for failing to give proper recognition to the creative people that make your books possible. I hope that future printings will rectify this atrocity.
Second, a brief note on semantics. Y.Kids books aren’t actually manga. The books are by Singaporean artists and writers, imported to America by a Korean publisher. Like many other publishers, Y.Kids is jumping on the manga bandwagon. To make this more interesting, these books aren’t translated works, they were originally written in English. (English is the governmental language of Singapore.)
The Prince and the Pauper is an adaptation of Mark Twain’s classic novel. It’s the story of Tom Canty and Prince Edward of England, two boys that look identical. Because of a quirky misunderstanding and circumstances, they end up swapping places. By having to live in each others’ shoes, they each come to understand that no one lives a charmed and carefree life.
Tom learns that though Prince Edward may not suffer any economic hardships, he does live under the weight of being heir to the throne. Being groomed to rule a nation is not an easy nor enviable life. Prince Edward learns the plight of the poor in his country. He also finds out how his father’s laws further oppress the poor. He remembers well what he’s learned and will enact reforms when he takes the throne.
I haven’t read Twain’s original novel, so I can’t comment on how faithful an adaptation this book is. I can say the manga version is well written. Both Tom and Prince Edward are sympathetic characters. The book does a good job of showing us the difficulties that both Tom and Prince Edward face in their normal and swapped daily lives. The book never shies away from the reality that taking all things into consideration, the Prince does lead the better life. It may be difficult to rule a nation, but it beats wondering how many days until your next meal. The book is also frank with the brutalities that the poor have visited upon them and visit upon each other. Parents should take note this book does have a couple brief depictions of child abuse. It delivers strong messages about justice, compassion, and responsibility without ever being preachy.
The artwork is serviceable. It’s simple and has a flat look to it. It reminds me of the art seen in cheaply animated shows of the 70’s aimed at small children. I always felt this style of art ‘talks down’ to children by implying that children can’t comprehend a complex visual language. Given the seriousness of the themes in this book, I would have preferred a more realistic and visually rich art style. Children raised in our current video culture can easily handle such art. I will credit the artist for doing a good job of researching 16th century England and making the clothes and environment realistic to that time and place.
Daddy-Long-Legs is an adaptation of Jean Webster’s novel. Jerusha Abbot is an 18-year-old girl who has spent most, if not all, of her life in an orphanage. Upon high school graduation, she must leave the orphanage and find her place in the world. However, Jerusha has been given an exceptional opportunity for a women at the turn of the 20th century. Ms. Lippett, the orphanage director, has convinced one of the trustees to sponsor Jerusha to go to college. There are conditions to her scholarship: 1) she is not given, nor is she to ask, the name of her benefactor; 2) she must write monthly letters to her benefactor, care of his agent, whom she may address as John Smith; and 3) she is not to expect, nor to ask for, letters from Mr. Smith. She nicknames her benefactor Daddy-Long-Legs based on the tall shadow she saw of him when he left the orphanage. The book then goes on to tell about Jerusha’s four years at a college through her letters to Mr. Smith.
Daddy-Long-Legs is a coming-of-age story. We watch as Jerusha slowly transforms from a shy and timid girl, embarrassed by her orphanage upbringing, to a confident woman who embraces her past and is ready to see what the world has to offer. She has a wonderful independent spirit and refuses to be controlled by anyone, including her benefactor. She’s a very likable character that you grow more attached to as she matures.
Again, I haven’t read the original novel, so I can’t comment on the how well this book adapts Webster’s work. The story in the manga is generally well done. It’s a great book to remind readers of what life was like for women just a hundred years ago. The vast majority of women didn’t go to college, weren’t members of the workforce, and couldn’t even vote. Girls like Jerusha were expected to find a man as quickly as possible, get married, and spend the rest of their lives maintaining a household. For me, it was a sobering reminder of the hard uphill battle women faced, and still face, to achieve independence and equality.
The story does falter at the end. About halfway through the book you will figure out who the mysterious benefactor is. There’s a love triangle toward the end where Mr. Smith’s keeping his identity a secret gives him insider information that he can use to his advantage. I found this to be a little creepy on Mr. Smith’s part. A more honorable man would have put all his cards on the table so Jerusha could make an honest and informed choice. Sorry, I’ve never subscribed to the ”all’s far in love and war” school of romance.
The art is decent. It’s more realistic and mature than in The Prince and the Pauper. It seems to be a cross between the illustration style found in young adult novels and a bare-bones shojo house style. The artist uses soft watercolor tones. I would be more complementary of the art, but occasionally people are drawn off-model. When the panel is a static image, the art becomes quite good. The costumes and backgrounds are realistic to turn-of-the-20th-century America.
Both books have some nice extras included. At the beginning of each book is a cast of characters to help readers. There is a one-page biography of the original author at the back of each book and a timeline showing the major events in that author’s life as well as the major events happening in America. The Prince and the Pauper has a short biography of King Edward VI, and Daddy-Long-Legs has a history of women’s colleges in America. Overall, the books are well-packaged and would make nice gifts or additions to a library.
I wish that Y.Kids was a well-organized as their books. The front page of each book tells parents and teachers to visit the Y.Kids website for additional resources related to each book. However, at the website, there is nothing but product descriptions. The homepage for the Manga Literary Classics line again asserts, “Our website offers supplemental activities, resources, and study material to help you incorporate Y.Kids books into your child’s reading at home or into a classroom curriculum.” This material is simply non-existent. The website also states at the back of each book there is “a list of suggested web and print resources for related information.” Again, that is not true. Since Y.Kids is listing these as reasons to buy their books, you would think that they would be diligent in making this material available. I was looking forward to seeing the kind of material Y.Kids had prepared and was frustrated and angry when I came up empty-handed. They really need to correct this massive oversight/blunder.
Putting aside the unkept promises, I highly recommend each book as a way to introduce young readers to each writer. Personally, I had never heard of Jean Webster, so I was introduced to a new author. Given that each original novel deals with a time period not familiar to most children, these manga will make the books more accessible to them. Hopefully, it will spark an interest in the original novels and other works by these authors.